This Day In History: April 3

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Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted in the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh, is executed by electrocution.

On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of the famous American aviator who made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927, was kidnapped from the nursery of the Lindbergh home in Hopewell, New Jersey. A ransom note was found on the scene of the crime demanding $50,000 in payment for the return of Charles Jr. Three days later, the Lindberghs involved the authorities against the kidnapper’s advice, and the ransom was increased to $70,000. On April 2, at New Jersey’s St. Raymond’s Cemetery, John F. Condon, a friend of the Lindberghs, handed over the $70,000. The Lindbergh baby was not returned, however, and nearly six weeks later the infant’s battered and mostly decomposed body was found in the woods just a few miles from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was determined to be a massive fracture of the skull occurring roughly two to three months before.

Following the tragic discovery, the Lindbergh kidnapping case became a sensational media event, and authorities launched an extensive manhunt for the guilty party. Using the serial numbers of the ransom money as a guide, investigators in September traced more than $11,000 of the ransom money to the Bronx, New York, apartment of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter. During the subsequent criminal trial, Hauptmann maintained his innocence, claiming that a business partner, Isador Fisch, gave him the money before returning to Germany, where he died in 1934. However, other evidence also implicated him, such as the discovery of Condon’s telephone number on a closet wall in Hauptmann’s home and eyewitness testimony from the night of the kidnapping. In February 1935, Hauptmann was convicted; and on April 3, 1936, after a series of appeals, he was executed by electrocution.

In the years following the kidnapping, a number of people began to question Hauptmann’s guilt and the quality of the criminal investigation; however, much of this criticism was likely motivated by opposition to Lindbergh following the public revelations of his Nazi sympathies.